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Week In Sports: NFL Will Recognize Juneteenth Holiday

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NFL says it will observe Juneteenth as a company holiday. That's June 19, which is celebrated as the effective end of slavery in the United States. This comes after a number of moves by the league to show it's responsive to questions about race and equity. And NASCAR says it will ban the Confederate flag from events. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of ESPN. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. How - you see all these - how do you see all these sudden announcements from the NFL? We had last week Commissioner Goodell apologized for not listening to players earlier about racism and now this acknowledgement of Juneteenth.

BRYANT: Well, I'm very dubious about all of it because I do believe that Roger Goodell listened to players. He listened to a lot of people. He listened to the Players Coalition, the group that they formed to neutralize Colin Kaepernick. He listened to the white fan base that made it sound like kneeling was the end of the world. And he listened to the white players that were offended by it and the broadcasters as well. The one group - the one person he didn't listen to was the one person that the league banned, which was Colin Kaepernick. And it was also the one person whose name he did not mention in the middle of this supposed mea culpa. And I think what's really a real sort of problem for me when I think about this, Scott, is the NFL has been the most unambiguous corporation in America when it comes to kneeling and when it comes to this entire systematic problem of policing in this country over the last four years. We've seen this in terms of how they dealt with Colin Kaepernick.

So it's very, very difficult for me to believe that you can be taken seriously when you won't even mention the name of the person who you banned. And that also we don't have the one thing that you really need from football, and that is you need the owners, whom Roger Goodell works for, to come out and say Colin Kaepernick is welcome to play in the NFL. None of them have said that. None of the owners have said anything about this new world. And you see the Houston Texans coach, Bill O'Brien, now saying that he's willing to kneel with the players. I'm dubious about the speed of all of this. I'm dubious about the action that comes behind it. I feel like there's a great wave of - I guess the best way to say it is I guess there's a gigantic wave of people and corporations who feel the need to be on the right side of this. But we'll see what they do when it's go time.

SIMON: I mean, you do have the situation where Colin Kaepernick's activism is being saluted but he's not being signed.

BRYANT: Well, that's right. And the gesture now has become a national and international gesture for this movement and for this moment. And so I feel like you really can't have reconciliation without truth. You really can't take any of this seriously unless you're willing to confront exactly what we're talking about. And the only way to do that is to get everybody in a room and to clean the slate. And the NFL is not willing to do that when it comes to him, which makes me think that what they're really doing is they're looking forward to dealing with the young players they have now, especially Patrick Mahomes, who signed on to this - Super Bowl-winning quarterback. And instead, what they really want to do is they want to take the past and leave it behind. But as we all know, you can't do that.

SIMON: NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at races - better after 70 years than never?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Well, better late than never, and I think that you look at Bubba Wallace, the NASCAR driver who came out in support of this, obviously, is biracial, he has been a star in certainly leading this. And also I feel like there's - as angry as there's going to be in terms of backlash, there's a huge opportunity for NASCAR to really expand that sport.

SIMON: NPR's Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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